For Want of a Nail

Photo Credit: Lana Von Haught

For want of a nail a horseshoe was lost,

for want of a horseshoe a horse went lame,

for want of a horse a rider never got through,

for want of a rider a message never arrived,

for want of a message an army was never sent,

for want of an army a battle was lost,

for want of a battle a war was lost,

for want of a war a kingdom fell,

and all for want of a nail.

-- 14th Century Proverb

Years ago, while driving in Florida, I was pulled over by a state trooper on my way from Sarasota to Tampa to teach a class. Unbeknownst to me, my car had a broken taillight. The trooper asked for my license, which, it turns out, I accidentally left on my dresser. In my haste to get to class on time, I simply forgot to put it in my pocket. The trooper was very nice and said it would be no problem, as long as he could verify that I did indeed have a valid license. He proceeded to radio his office, but the office phone lines were down, and as a result, my license couldn't be verified. He said he had no choice but to arrest me for driving without a license.

On the way to jail, I asked what would happen if the phones started working while we were driving and the trooper said he'd immediately turn around and everything would be ok. Five minutes later, the radio call comes in. The voice says, "Is that Paul Owens with an Ohio license?" The trooper smiles at me and I breathe a sigh of relief as we both think all will be well. The trooper says, "Yes." The voice then says, "He's 54 years old, 5' 6" and weighs 220 pounds?" The trooper says, "No, the Paul Owens I have is 32 years old, 5' 10" and weighs about 170."

The voice says, "Ok, wrong one. But the phones just went down again, so I can't check again for a while." Sometimes I think Mother Nature likes to tease while teaching us a life lesson. I spent three hours in a holding cell when, thankfully, the phone lines came back online and I was released.

I missed the class, which was a big inconvenience for my students, I had to pay to get my car out of impound and I spent hundreds of dollars on a fix-it ticket. It's true, sometimes it's the tiniest actions that lead to huge consequences.

I was reminded of this story after a recent incident that happened to one of my clients. He had just adopted two rescue dogs that were very dog-reactive on walks. I instructed my client on specific safety measures, including walking the dogs separately (both so he would have more control and so the dogs wouldn't feed off of each other's energy), to expect the unexpected and to maintain a safe distance from other dogs to minimize his dogs' impulse to react.

Most importantly, I demonstrated how to clip his dogs' walking harnesses to their collars for extra protection. I've seen many dogs back out of their harnesses, especially if they're not fitted properly or if they had been loosened over time. The clip is an important safety tool that will be your dog's best friend when all else fails.

As we've all experienced, a busy lifestyle all too often trumps safety precautions. My client insisted that he couldn't walk his dogs separately because of his time constraints, but he did agree to try to walk them at times when there was less of chance of seeing other dogs. He also agreed to make sure each dog's harness and collar were hooked together before walks.

A Perfect Storm

A few weeks later, I received a call. While on their walk, my client and his two dogs suddenly came upon an elderly woman walking her dog. One of my client's dogs became so excited he wriggled out of his harness which, you guessed it, was not hooked to his collar. He broke away and attacked the woman's dog. Her dog, trying to escape, wrapped the leash around the woman's leg and she lost her balance and fell to the ground. While on the ground, she frantically tried to pull my client's dog off her dog. In the process she ended up scratched and bleeding. It turns out she was on blood thinners and bled very easily.

Meanwhile, my client was trying to control his other dog, who desperately wanted to join in on the action. My client tripped, fell to the ground and lost control of his other dog. Now both people are on the ground screaming for help while the dogs are yelping and growling.

A neighbor, hearing the noise, came out his house to help but his two large Labradors rushed out the door in front of him and ran across the street towards the action. The woman's little dog, by now completely freaking out, broke free and was chased down the street by one of the Labs. More neighbors come rushing out to help and, finally, they got the situation under control.

My client was able to wrangle his dogs home and then rush the elderly woman to the emergency room. She ended up okay, but she did require follow up care. Her dog was taken to the emergency vet by one of the neighbors and was treated. Miraculously, the little dog managed to escape with only a small puncture on his foot. But obviously there was some significant emotional trauma. Thankfully the Labs were very friendly and just wanted in on all of the excitement.

My client subsequently accepted all responsibility for the debacle and drove the poor woman to the doctor at least six times. He paid for each and every one of her visits, in addition to paying for her dog's medical care.

Thousands of dollars were lost, people and dogs were injured, dozens of hours were spent, and there was an enormous emotional toll on everyone concerned, dog and human.

All for want of a clip.